Jenny Torres Sanchez with you today. Jenny's debut novel The Downside of Being Charlie comes out from Running Press on May 22nd. As you'll see in the interview, I loved Charlie and think the story will appeal to fans of John Green and Chris Crutcher. Here's the summary from Goodreads:
Charlie is handed a crappy senior year. Despite losing thirty pounds over the summer, he still gets called “Chunks” Grisner. What’s worse, he has to share a locker with the biggest Lord of the Rings freak his school has ever seen. He also can’t figure out whether Charlotte VanderKleaton, the beautiful strawberry lip-glossed new girl, likes him the way he likes her. Oh, and then there’s his mom. She’s disappeared—again—and his dad won’t talk about it.
Somewhere between the madness, Charlie can at least find comfort in his one and only talent that just might get him out of this life-sucking place. But will he be able to hold his head above water in the meantime?
I just love me some realistic fiction and Jenny adds a great new voice to the genre. Her lovely agent, Kerry Sparks, was kind enough to send me an ARC and I'm going to pass it on to one lucky commenter. But before we get to those details, please meet the lovely author!
Hi Jenny. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you start us off with a bit about yourself?
Well, other than writing and reading, I love to listen to music, paint, take photographs, and hang out with my husband and kids. Also, I avoid small or crowded places. I'm extremely claustrophobic.
How did you get into writing, and more specifically for young adults?
I got into writing because I was a middle child with an older sister seven years my senior and a younger brother seven years my junior. For all intents and purposes, I was an only child and had to find ways to entertain myself. The Uniondale Public Library was down the street from my house so I’d go there and read a lot as a kid. I think this naturally led to me making up stories and writing them down. And just between us, I had a touch of the melodramatic middle child “nobody cares about me” syndrome and writing seemed to let me indulge in that wonderful self-pity.
Specifically, I got into writing for young adults when I saw the teen angst, drama, wit, and comedy that entered my classroom on a daily basis when I taught high school English. My students were a huge inspiration to me and reminded me how terrible/thrilling/awesome/and humiliating it was to be a teen. I’m always trying to capture that in my writing.
Well, I think you captured it wonderfully in your debut YA novel, The Downside of Being Charlie, which comes out next month. What has your publication journey been like and how are you feeling right about now?
The journey to publication has been difficult in that writing a novel, getting an agent, and getting a deal is a long road paved with LOTS of rejection and frustration. But it has been smooth in that my agent, editor, and publisher have been incredibly supportive, insightful, and helpful every step of the way.
Right now I feel the way you do when you just make the height requirement for the biggest, baddest roller coaster ever. You’re psyched and totally thrilled, but you also feel like puking. And a little part of you is pretty convinced you’re going to fly out of the car at the first turn and . . . well, you know. But you can’t wait.
In the story, Charlie deals with some tough issues. Weight, abandonment, bullying and more, though it's not heavy-handed. Why did you feel compelled to write this particular story? Who is Charlie to you?
I felt compelled to write Charlie’s story because I think there are a lot of teens like Charlie out there. So many of them are dealing with so many of issues. Some people might say, man, can his life suck that bad? but when I think back to my own high school days, my friends, my students, I have to say, yeah, there are plenty of kids whose lives suck that bad, and worse. They’re dealing with more than most adults can handle, and they’re dealing with it every day, by themselves, and very quietly. They become good at hiding the truth, which can be dangerous and lonely. This, I hope, is a way for them to feel less lonely. Charlie is all those kids and anyone who has felt isolated and misunderstood, and alone and overwhelmed with reality with no real understanding or knowledge or power of how to make things change.
(Anyone else get goosebumps reading that? I just love her!) Jenny, what were you like as a teenager? Did any of your own experiences make it into the novel? Any anecdotes you'd like to share?
Well, I was a peppy kind of girl . . . okay, not really. I was actually incredibly self-conscious and insecure which I played it off by scowling a lot and being all around unapproachable. Yeah, my mom was thrilled with teen me.
No specific events from my life made it into the novel, but the sense of inadequacy and, on some scale, self-loathing Charlie feels throughout the book were all feelings I dealt with as a teen. Actually, the mention of a drama student dressing up as a Smurf in the book–that really happened my senior year. But sadly, it wasn’t me.
(Speaking of teen Jenny, she's contributed to Dear Teen Me and you can read her post here.) One of the few bright spots in Charlie's life is his photography, a hobby that helps him explore his feelings. Does this reflect any particular thoughts you have on the power of art in expression and/or healing?
Oh, definitely. I think especially for people who have a tendency to be introverted or have difficulty connecting with or accepting help from others, I think art can be an incredible outlet during difficult times. I don’t think it can be a substitute for help, but I think it can help you cope.
Your voice is perfectly suited to realistic fiction. I can't tell you how excited I am to have a great new contemporary author to read. How did you find your authorial voice and that of Charlie's character?
Thanks so much, Casey. Honestly, voice is something I struggled with quite a bit at first. When I was applying to a particular MFA program (and getting repeatedly rejected), a creative writing teacher told me, the problem is you don’t seem to have a voice. You don’t know what it is. You need to find your voice! Looking back, I think I was trying too hard to sound “authorish” or “writerly” if that makes any sense. I think I found my voice when I stopped trying so hard and just wrote. Charlie’s voice seemed to come naturally, though during revisions, I did have to work on making him sound a little more “boyish.”
On a related note, there were elements of the novel that reminded me of John Green. Namely, aspects of the voice and Charlie's colorful best friend, Ahmed (Green always has a memorable side character and Ahmed is definitely that!). Was Green or any other YA author a particular influence for you?
John Green has been a huge influence because I think his books show this fantastic balance between humor and pain and love and angst and his characters are so real. I definitely aim to do that in my own writing. Another YA author that has been an influence on me is A.S. King because she hits real issues in a fearless kind of way that makes the reader stop and really think. I admire that and am a big fan of both authors.
I read on your website that you're a huge fan of music. Did you have a playlist while writing The Downside of Being Charlie? If so, do you plan to share it with fans?
I actually do have a playlist that I listened to while writing Charlie. And I will definitely post it on my website. Actually, I was supposed to do that a while back and didn’t, so I will now!
Yay! You have another book coming out in 2013 that sounds deliciously fantastic, Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. The title alone has me dying to read it. What can we expect from this next title?
I’m really excited about Frenchie. It’s a story about a girl dealing with the death of her high school crush and as she does so, contemplates life and death, talks to Emily Dickinson’s corpse, hangs out in cemeteries, and take readers on an adventure through the crazy night that changed everything. I especially hope readers connect with Frenchie because she is such a flawed, warped character who is actually a lot more normal than you (or she) would think. It’s scheduled to come out in spring of 2013.
Okay, now I really can't wait to get a copy! Last question. Where can readers stay up-to-date on you and your books?
You can visit my website.
And my blog.
And find me on twitter @jetchez.
Oh, and Facebook.
Thank you so much for your time, Jenny, and thank you for giving us Charlie to read and love.
Thank you, Casey!
Isn't Jenny just fantastic? I hope you're all as excited as I am about Charlie. If you'd like a chance to win my ARC, please be a follower and leave a comment with your e-mail address (if it's not public). Let me know if you spread the word in any way, which will get you an extra entry. The giveaway will run until midnight on Tuesday, May 8th, and I'll have Natalie announce the winner on May 9th when she posts her interview with Kim Harrington.